The kindness of strangers: Learning new skills through live programming on Twitch

by Nic McPhee | at Minnebar 17 | 11:15 – 12:00 in Proverb-Edison | View Schedule

After COVID scuppered my plans for a European research sabbatical, I opted to use the 2022-2023 school year to learn some new technologies. It's easy to say "I'm going to use this time to learn X", but it's not easy to actually make that happen in practice. I was in the position so many of us have been in: "How do I stay focused and keep myself accountable?".

As an experiment last May, I scheduled two 2-hour live streaming sessions a week on Twitch, where I programmed live on the Internet, teaching myself the Rust programming language with the assistance of complete strangers from (literally) around the world. At the beginning I had no idea if anyone would show up or what the experience would be like, but found that there were people out there who were happy to not only watch me program but also to patiently answer questions, make suggestions, and generally support my learning. By August I decided to double the number of sessions per week, and to date I've generated several hundred hours of live programming on Twitch, going through tutorials, rewriting past programs, and building new applications.

In this talk I'll focus on the live programming and social support side of the process, how helpful this has been, and how important my little streaming community has been in my learning. I'll also share a few things I've learned along the way. I was using this to learn a new programming language, but I think a similar process could be used to help learn almost any tool or process that you can share live online. I won't get too deep into the weeds of Rust in the talk, but I'd be more than happy to answer questions about my experience with Rust if folks are interested.

I'm hoping to actually live stream the talk on Twitch, so the folks that have been so helpful and supportive can join us.


Nic McPhee

Nic has taught computing at the Morris campus of the University of Minnesota since 1991, helping students develop problem solving, software development, and life-long learning skills that serve them well when they graduate and for decades beyond. Cool alumni are scattered all over the IT scene, from start ups to Fortune 500s.

He generally wishes he could spend more time pair programming with students and less time grading, and has been programming on Twitch since May of 2022. He also keeps finding his photos on Wikipedia and occasionally sings in public. Nic has done college radio since 1981 on three different stations; he and his wife currently do a weekly show together. His wife makes cool sculptures, their (adult) progeny is becoming a librarian, and the cat sheds. All in all, a pretty good life.